It’s time for my annual motor scooter ride to the Black Hills of South Dakota.
As of this writing, my scooter – a Harley Davidson Electra Glide Classic – is packed with all the necessities of a weeklong excursion.
And by the time you read this, I hope to have covered more than 2,000 miles of highways and byways in Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota.
So for good luck, this column is a bit off topic, dedicated to some basic tenants of motorcycle safety that more than 100,000 miles on the back of five Harleys over the last 25 years have taught me.
Lesson number one in my book: Never think that because you are a good rider, and have gone over 100,000 miles without a significant mishap, you are immune to disaster.
Complacency is dangerous. Anything can happen. And it is my belief that the minute you think it can’t, you become a less safe rider.
More to the point, there are, in my opinion, three basic concepts associated with motorcycle safety: space, vision, and anticipation. They are interrelated.
First is space. The key to avoiding collision with other objects – a bad, bad thing – is space. Always have space between you and that which you might otherwise collide with.
The more space, the better.
Never ever, ever tailgate. A car can usually stop faster than a motorcycle. And if you hit that object in front of you – very, very bad. You will lose that contest.
The same holds true of drivers who want to tailgate you. I believe it is a natural reaction for some drivers: “That motorcycle is smaller than my car. Why not cruise two car lengths behind it at highway speed.”
If that is me on the motorcycle, I will turn around, point at you, and make an unmistakable “back the heck off” gesture. Nothing personal.
If that doesn’t work, I will slow down until you pass me. You win. Go around. “I WAS NOT AT FAULT” on one’s tombstone or wheelchair is not much of a victory or consolation.
Next is vision.
Assume you are invisible, and that other drivers cannot see you. To a certain percentage of other drivers, you are, and they will not. Expect it. It could save your bacon.
In traffic, at intersections, and any other applicable time and place, I look to observe not just other vehicles, but the eyes of the driver to see if they are observing me. On many an occasion over the years, seeing the face of a driver who was not looking has averted a poor outcome.
Another key vision issue. Always be in a position where you can see the road far ahead, and far off to the side of the road.
Following another vehicle may not give you enough time to avoid debris or road kill that a car or truck would nonchalantly straddle, but which, even at a good and safe following distance, would cause an unwary motorcyclist an unwelcome and perhaps disastrous jolt. So, I always try to position myself where I can see the road surface ahead, way ahead, even much, much further than a safe following distance. I definitely want to see what’s ahead of me, and what’s ahead of who or what’s ahead of me.
Many a safe rider has been victimized by animals on the roadway. Deer, dogs and bears. Well, maybe not bears. But deer and dogs have cost many a rider their good health, and even their lives. That’s why vision way ahead and to the side of the road is also important. And when the side of the road may be obstructed by foliage, shielding your vision from animals ready to dart into your path, slow down, keep your eyes open, and be ready for anything.
Which brings us to the final concept, anticipation. Simply put, always anticipate the worst, and hope for the best. That is the mindset that diminishes the likelihood of the former, and increases that of the latter.
Ken Garten is a Blue Springs attorney. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org